BOOKS FOR CHILDREN PROPER LITTLE MADAMS

PICTURE BOOKS
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
GIRLY girls are back with a vengeance. In March, a headline above a report on London Fashion Week read: "Proper little madams", the glossy mags are full of sugared almond twinsets and pastel strappy high heels - and June marks the centenary of the birth of Cicely Mark Barker.

Miss Barker, as most women (even those in head-to-toe black with plum lipstick) will be able to tell you, illustrated and wrote the Flower Fairies books (see the letter `G' above). The series is being reprinted by Frederick Warne - the two most recent being The Little Yellow Book and The Little Pink Book (£2.99 each). While the poetry may make your eyes water, the colour plates are delectable, the botanical detail is superb and the drawings of the children's faces is exquisite.

But if images of thistledown and sweet peas do not suit your little treasure, the other type of proper little madam is catered for by Tony Ross in I WANT MY DINNER (Andersen Press £7.99). The little princess (heroine of the classic I Want My Potty) is still demanding, bossy and prone to shouting, but she learns fast and even teaches a big blue beastie a few manners, too. Minimal text and bright, sassy, simple colour plates of the beetroot- checked royal family make this entertaining for reading aloud and perfect for beginning solo readers.

WIBBLY PIG CAN MAKE A TENT (and five other titles) by Mick Inkpen, Hodder £2.99. A brilliant series of board books for toddlers or pre-schoolers to manhandle on their own. Wibbly is a smiley little chap who uses everyday objects to entertain himself, ending with the immortal line "And he can make a mess! What can you make?" Good, sturdy shape (about five inches square) and short enough for older siblings to show off their reading prowess to the younger ones.

LITTLE MOUSE TAKES A WALK by Stephen Holmes, Tango £7.99. Nicely engineered pop-up book, of a mouse being misled by a log (it turns out to be a crocodile), a branch (it's a snake) and so on. Clear jungly greens and simple speech bubbles, suitable for two- and three-year-olds.

OWEN by Kevin Henkes, Julia MacRae £8.99. The perfect present for any child attached to a much loved but disgusting piece of blanket. Owen, an otherwise rather sweet mouse, has a vicelike grip on Fuzzy (his yellow rag). Nosey neighbour MrsTweezers suggests devious methods to divest him of it, but none works. "Haven't you heard of saying no? Owen's parents hadn't. Mrs Tweezers filled them in." Finally, Owen's mother finds a solution and everyone is happy. Nice touches in the illustrations for the grown- ups (a mouse version of Munch's The Scream, Owen's father's heart-patterned pyjama bottoms) and fun to read aloud to pre-schoolers.

HELP, MAMA, HELP! by Shen Roddie, illus Frances Cony, Tango £9.99. This is "A touch-and-feel pull-tab pop-up book", which says it all really. Half a toy, half a book, with a cartoon chick who thinks he's big enough to camp out in the garden; parents might find the drawing a bit crude, but threes and fours will love to use the real zip on the sleeping bag and the ribbon ties on the tent.

HILDA THE HEN'S HAPPY BIRTHDAY by Mary Wormell, Gollancz £8.99/£3.99. Glorious old-fashioned lino-cut illustrations (lots of heavy black lines and washed out colours; see illustration right) and a disarming story neatly tailored to allow the reader in on the secret - dotty Hilda beetles about the farmyard and garden poking her beak into everybody else's snacks thinking that they're meant for her birthday treats. Nice rhythm, the right amount of repetition and a happy conclusion: good for fives and sixes to try alone.

I LOVE BOATS by Flora McDonnell, Walker £8.99. Large format and clear bold type above plain expressive paintings; a relaxed splashy hand with the brush keeps the seas lively and the colours bleached in cold northern light. The list of boats includes dredgers and lobster potters and there is lots of incidental detail (the family peering through the portholes of the house boat, the cormorants on a rock near the rowing boats) to discuss with three- to five-year-olds and beginning readers.

THE RUNAWAY TRAIN by Benedict Blathwayt, Julia MacRae £8.99. The soft clear colours and aerial views of towns and countryside are captivating. This, like Blathwayt's earlier Bear in the Air, is the kind of exercise in misadventure that all children enjoy vicariously. There are glorious scenes as Duffy Driver (who has overslept) attempts to catch up with his wayward engine (left). Lots of details (the fox lurking in the pinewood, the pheasants pecking in the wake of the combine harvester) but full of pathos: this is not what our countryside looks like any more (if it ever did). This engine puffs out pure white cotton wool balls of smoke, the streams and canals run clear and blue. No matter. It all ends happily, and children of four to six will love to study these nostalgic scenes where - for once - they are looking down on a perfect world laid out beneath them.

SHOUTING SHARON by David Pace, Frances Lincoln £8.99. "A Riotous Counting Rhyme" it says on the cover. Hmmm. Try as I might, I could find no rhyme here. Alliteration, yes. But rhyme? Here is an example: "Three busy barbers snipping beards and Sharon shouted . . . CUT! Four fat ladies trying to slim and Sharon shouted... CHOCOLATE!" The drawing of Sharon, the brazen- voiced hussy, is gleeful and vivid, and the scenes of devastation in her wake are jolly and brightly coloured. But the text... At £8.99 I think I'd need to find it more of a rib-tickler than this, although children of five or so (those with no expectation of rhyme, anyway) will probably love to shout along with Sharon, enjoying the big type and the mayhem.

THE BIG BIG SEA by Martin Waddell, illus Jennifer Eachus, Walker £7.99. A full moon, the seashore and a paddle in the shallows with mother. This is a gentle quiet evocation of a magical night to remember; the charm lies in the delicacy and warmth of the grainy grey drawings and the unadorned text. A bedtime story for four- to six-year-olds which lingers in the memory like a dream.

JUNGLE JOE by Julie Scott, Andersen £8.99.

Luminous greens, pearly light filtering through jungle foliage, animal crackers, a buoyant boy-hero and Rosie the silent parrot to the rescue. Brilliant super-realist images and a lost-and-found plot makes this a satisfying read for six-year-olds to try on their own. The picture of Joe's face when he sees Rosie's nest (right) is worth the cover price.

SURPRISE! SURPRISE! by Michael Foreman, Andersen £7.99. Little Panda smashes open his piggy bank and finds "two chocolate buttons, a bottle top and a shiny silver coin". He has to buy his mother a birthday present, but one small coin won't buy more than a tiny plant in a pot. "It's very small," said little Panda. "So is your coin," said the shopkeeper. Bright watercolours, predominantly turquoise and gold, and the simple text show the bear bravely giving up his nightlight and facing the terrors of the dark attic to nurture his tiny offering. His reward is his mum's fabulous surprise. Good bedtime reading for fours and up.

ALL THE WAY TO THE STARS by Annalena McAfee, illus Anthony Lewis, Julia MacRae £8.99. Perfect bedtime reading for mothers and sons. "Every day Mummy says `Don't do that. That's for big boys!' When I'm big I'll... send my Mummy to bed early." The boy imagines doing all those things which are banned on ageist grounds, and a few others besides - such as going to Australia to see the koalas eating all the sweets in the sweetshop. "But I'd still come home to play with my toys... and to see my Mummy." Ahhh. Anthony Lewis's busy drawings with their sense of movement and use of colour (in particular a wonderfully rich deep blue) add an appealing edge. Suitable for trainee explorers of five-plus, and their mums.

THE BED AND BREAKFAST HOUSE by Tony Barton, illus Mark Robertson, Bodley Head £9.99. Rather self-consciously weird? Or a stylish response to the dreary B&B seaside holiday? Lavishly produced, this story follows the adventures of "My mate Ron and I" who hunt for a secret in a peculiar boarding house peopled by "Tommy Spotter", "Prof Fruitbat" and "Lady Poshtoff", who looks more like a madam in a brothel than a grand lady in pink. However, the boys search for "a secret in this house. In a room that's hidden", and leave at the end of their week feeling well satisfied. This one remained something of a mystery to me, but seven-year-olds might appreciate the strange architecture and stranger jokes.

BLODIN THE BEAST by Michael Morpurgo, illus Christina Balit, Frances Lincoln £8.99. Sounds great, doesn't it? For all adventurous spirits, it is just the sort of title to get the pulse racing, and the fierce black thing who stalks the land gobbling oil and belching out fire and smoke won't prove a disappointment. Wild and inventive use of colour and layout and the confident line of the narrative lift this story above the level of simple fable: "All that was needed was an old man's faith and a young man's courage." It's an impressive production which offers plenty of opportunities for thought and discussion for six- and seven-year-olds.

Comments